While in Pouch Cove on the 16th of this month, I came upon a very odd set of large tracks. I found the tracks in the middle of a clearing with no other tracks leading in or out, just in the middle of the area. Puzzled, I wondered what kind of bird could make such a large track.
Tucked away among my many pictures, I also have this image of a very streaky bird seen in early September. The bird has yet to be identified.
After spending an hour at Quidi Vidi Lake, I took a break. I began to think that if a Gyrfalcon is, indeed in town, it must have flown in through the harbor.
On the off-chance that I might see a Gyrfalcon and the better chance I might see the Black Scoter and the Harlequin, I headed to Cape Spear. Shortly after arriving, this great juvenile eagle made a really close fly-by. Terry J. and Mike and Brenda P. were there to enjoy it with me.
Shortly after, Mike spotted a very large, dark bird flying quite some distance away over a flock of Common Eider. It was flying low over the eider, then swooping upward. I was able to get the camera on it and got these few, poor shots. Nevertheless, they seem to be enough to confirm this is a Gyrfalcon. I hope I don't have to retract this.
Here's why: Terry J. was saying the behaviour was very much like a Gyrfalcon with its stiff wing beats. Also, a Peregrine (I saw two while at the Cape) would fly in close to shore, around the edges of the rock and never consider having eider for lunch.
The wings are much broader than a Peregine, but not so broad as an eagle, nor a Northern Goshawk. To give you a better idea of the distance at which this shot was taken: It was twice the distance of the buoy or more.
The flight feathers are lighter than the coverts. The tail is long, but doesn't seem as long as a goshawk. The wingspan was very wide, more than a goshawk. Considering the distance, this bird was really big for us to be able to see it.
After a minute or so of viewing, the bird flew in the direction of the city dump.
Having the opportunity to see both a juvenile Peregrine and a mature one, there is no question our bird over the water was not a Peregrine. We wouldn't have been able to see its small frame at the distance of our bird.
And so, I build the argument for a Gyrfalcon in town. Given the confidence of Terry Janes about the ID (been birding for 55 years and Cape Spear is his main haunt) I have ticked the Gyrfalcon for 2015. I have confidence in him and his observations of the bird's flight pattern.
On an unusually warm, sunny afternoon, it just seemed right to make a drive to Cape Spear. Margie M. and I made the trip. Shortly after we arrived, we were treated to an amazing flight display by an adult Peregrine Falcon. It flew quite close to us, swooped up and down and then off toward Blackhead. Wow!
After letting that sink in, we walked on toward the lookout. The wind was whipping behind us, and I was dreading the return walk where it would be full-on in the face. Oh well, just pull up the hood and keep walking.
There were a couple of small flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, lots of Black Guillemots, maybe one Dovekie, but no sign of eider....until this flock of about 150 to 200 flew in. I caught sight of at least one King Eider. These two flight images show three.
We watched as the eider landed in the distance off from the cannon. We headed in that direction. Much to our delight, the shape-shifting flock began to work its way toward shore.
Within moments, it was obvious there were multiple male King Eider in the small group. In fact, this photo shows SIX adult, male King Eider. We never counted that many as binocular views were limited, and the birds were moving around and diving a lot.
What was so marvelous about this, is we saw them up close, better than any I have ever seen before. I saw more King Eider yesterday than I have in several years combined.
While we weren't able to identify any female King Eider on the spot, but a close look at my photos revealed at least two in the group.
That makes a total of EIGHT King Eider in one small flock at close range. It seemed we were sheltered from the wind, and we enjoyed every minute of it. That is...until an adult Bald Eagle moved over the waters and upset every bird around. Our flock began to weave away from shore.
We walked around the lower boardwalk to see if we might have missed anything. All of a sudden, we realized the wind had died down. Off came the hats and gloves as it felt like Spring, albeit only 30 minutes. It was wonderful.
There was no sign of the Purple Sandpipers or the scoters, but we had a grand little trip to the Cape. If I had a super-duper lens, I would have walked away with portraits.
Had a fortuneteller told me five years ago I would spend two hours standing in sub-zero temps staring at a stump, I would have told him to return his faulty crystal ball.
Yet, there I was standing in one spot for two hours in frigid temps entranced by all of the activity at a stump in Bowring Park.
Was it worth it? For sure. In fact, I could have stayed even longer.
I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a Common Redpoll, so I stayed and stayed.
Totally entertained by the variety of birds in the area, time flew. There are definitely patterns of activity.
When the ducks, Blue Jays, pigeons and starling move in the smaller birds move to the other dining options in the area.
When a hawk appears, all of the little birds zigzag away from the area. It is the little chickadees who alway return first.
Less often appearing is the Downy Woodpecker, but she really can't resist the sumptuous temptation and flies in from time to time.
The leucistic American Goldfinch is not showing itself very often either and seems to stay more to itself than before.
Unexpectedly, a Pine Siskin flew in. That raised my hope as Common Redpoll often keep company with them. However, this one stayed less than a minute and was gone again.
A lone, female Purple Finch has been a regular in the stump area for over a month. I keep expecting to see more of them, but so far...just the one.
Of course, the main event is the Pine Warbler that has been thriving during the long, cold winter with the help of many birders maintaining a clean feeding area with lots of fresh food.
For over two months this Pine Warbler had provided entertainment for birders and many park walkers. It seems everyone walking the railway bed knows about this little bird.
It looks very promising this bird will survive the harsh conditions. Those who have been nurturing it are too plentiful to mention, but Gerald Hickey and Lancy Chang have made a huge contribution of time and energy to help it along.
Our Pine Warbler is no longer afraid of people. I saw it sit comfortably and confidently as many walkers and dogs passed by. He has adapted very well.
Also seen in the area was this shy Song Sparrow. It would move close to the stump and then flutter away. I never did see it land near the stump.
In addition to these starlings and the birds seen above, I also saw a Northern Flicker and a Hairy Woodpecker. The Hairy was on the river side of the railway working a tree high above the river.
Cape Spear is always a hit or miss location. Sometimes there are so many birds it is hard to focus on any single bird. Other times the basin is empty.
Today was a "middling" kind of day. There were small flocks of Common Eider and Long-tailed Ducks scattered about. Flocks were too far to identify with binoculars, so I focused on the flybys as well as the few that were playing in the surf below the lookout.
This flying eider, I think, is a first Spring male. He really looked quite different from other males about.
Unfortunately, as the above photos show, he decided he had to go before I could get a really close shot of him. For a while I hoped he would drift into shore.
This beautiful male Common Eider stayed in close to the lookout. Wish I could get a really close look at one of these.
Gunning for a King Eider, I held the camera tight on small groups passing by.
This strategy paid off as I was able to see two male Kings.
Neither of these small flocks landed, they continued on around the bend and disappeared.
I have included several shots as they moved closer to shore.
In this last shot of Long-tailed Ducks, there seemed to be one that was quite different. It must be a Labrador Duck! Wink! Wink! I have looked at a lot of images of Long-tailed Ducks and scoters, and I don't think it is any of those birds. I apologize for the poor photo, but maybe someone can make sense of it.